Located just off the main highway between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, the Good Samaritan museum (‘Khan al-Hatrura’ in Arabic) boasts a number of archaeological artifacts, an ancient church and courtyard and, most importantly, a wide variety of mosaics from the Byzantine era.
The museum is named after the parable told by Jesus concerning a man who was robbed, beaten and left for dead. He was subsequently found and aided by a ‘Good Samaritan’ even though Samaritans and Jews were, by no means, on good terms at that time. The parable, today, for Christians symbolizes friendship, brotherhood, and mercy.
In the 6th century, a large monastery was built here, with a cistern in its center. The floor of the prayer house was constructed out of tiny mosaic tiles, most of which were taken from the grounds by pilgrims, who wanted something to remember their journey by. Today, as you enter the building, you will see an enormous ‘Gaza mosaic’ depicting all kinds of animals. This is a reconstruction of the original design, comprised of over 1.6 million tiles!
The building in which the museum is housed was, in Ottoman times, an inn for travelers. Today, it is the only mosaic museum of its kind in Israel (and one of only three in the world). Without a doubt, it is a treasure trove for anyone interested in archaeology. The mosaics there have been collected from churches and synagogues around Israel.
Many of the mosaics have Hebrew, Greek and Samaritan inscriptions on them, with designs that are typically geometric (as was customary in Byzantine times). Others are adorned with animals and flowers. During the preservation process, many of these mosaics have been cast in natural substances like lime and sand, just as they would have been centuries ago.
On display are also pieces from an excavation that took place in the area - including coins, pottery, a dining table, and even a stone coffin. In what was once a cave, there is now a tiny cinema where visitors can watch a short film about the history and customs of the Samaritan community. The museum’s admission fee is reasonable and included in the price is parking and a free audio guide. If visiting in the hot summer months, it is advisable to take sunscreen and a hat since some of the exhibits are outside.
Other places of interest in the vicinity are the old Crusader ruins of the Castellum Rouge (‘Red Fortress’), the St. Gerasimos Monastery and the Qumran National Park. Masada is about an hour’s drive from the museum.